New Alabama AG Says Oil Spill Claims Top Priority

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New Alabama AG Says Oil Spill Claims Top Priority

By Bob Johnson
January 11, 2011

¬†Incoming Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange says he will hold nothing back to make sure the state and its citizens are compensated for all losses because of last year’s massive BP oil spill.

Strange said he will personally lead the state’s legal efforts — in court and in the claims process — to collect lost revenue and other damages the state suffered because of the spill.

“I’m going to be the number one lawyer,” Strange said in an interview with The Associated Press. He called the oil spill, caused by the explosion that killed 11 workers on the rig Deepwater Horizon, one of the worst environmental disasters Alabama has faced.

“We’re going to fight as vigorously as you possibly can to ensure that Alabama is compensated for the catastrophe by the responsible parties — that’s for environmental impact, that’s for any damage done to our state by BP’s oil spill,” Strange said.

He called dealing with the aftermath of the BP oil spill his “number one challenge.”

Strange inherits lawsuits filed by current Attorney General Troy King against BP and other companies. At the same time, Gov. Bob Riley has pursued efforts to seek compensation through a claims process and derided King for suing the company.

Strange takes the oath of office on Jan. 17 after a rocky period for the AG’s office in which King and Riley feuded over the state’s enforcement of laws against gambling and whether electronic bingo casinos were operating illegally. Some employees have complained quietly that morale in the AG’s office has suffered as a result of the feud with the governor.

Strange was supported by the GOP governor and defeated King in a bitter campaign for the Republican nomination last year. He beat Montgomery attorney James Anderson, a Democrat, in the general election.

During the primary campaign, King accused Strange of having ties to big oil and at one point after the primary refused to brief Strange on efforts to recover claims from BP, partly because Strange as a lobbyist once represented the owner of the oil rig, Transocean. As a result of that clash, Strange said he takes over the oil spill lawsuits and claims without having ever spoken to King.

“I’ve had no conversations or any contact with Troy. I haven’t talked to him since before the primary,” Strange said.

He said their staffs, however, have been working together on transition issues.

The Montgomery law firm headed by former Alabama Lt. Gov. Jere Beasley is representing the state in the oil spill lawsuits. Beasley said his attorneys are continuing to work vigorously on the case.

“We will continue to do that until somebody tells us otherwise,” Beasley said.

Strange said fighting illegal gambling will be part of his office’s efforts to end public corruption in the state. He takes over at a time when several people, including legislators, lobbyists and casino owners, are under federal indictment on charges of trying to buy votes in the Legislature. Federal prosecutors and the FBI have also headed up an ongoing investigation into corruption in the state’s two-year college system.

Strange said he expects the attorney general’s office to take a more active role in those types of cases under his leadership. He said he plans to put together a team of investigators to look into white collar crime and public corruption.

“We are going to work very closely not only with district attorneys in this state but also with federal prosecutors,” Strange said.